Melissa Lucio’s execution has been delayed. What you need to know – Twin Cities
By JUAN A. LOZANO
HOUSTON (AP) — The execution of Melissa Lucio is overturned. At least for now.
Lucio, 52, was due to be executed by lethal injection on Wednesday for the death of his 2-year-old daughter Mariah in Harlingen, a town of about 75,000 people on the southern tip of Texas.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals intervened on Monday, granting the request of Lucio’s lawyers a stay of execution so that a lower court could consider allegations that new evidence showed Mariah’s injuries, including a blow. to the head, were caused by a fall down a steep staircase. .
Nearly half of the jurors who sentenced her to death for the 2007 death of one of her 14 children had called for her execution to be halted and for a new trial. Many lawmakers and celebrities such as Kim Kardashian, a criminal justice reform advocate, and Amanda Knox – an American whose murder conviction in the death of a British student in Italy was overturned – have rallied behind the because of Lucia. Prosecutors, however, argue that the girl was abused.
Lucio’s lawyers had filed various legal actions to stop his execution. She also had a clemency petition before the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, which was to review her case on Monday. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott could also have played a role this week in deciding Lucio’s fate. If ultimately put to death, Lucio would be the first Latina executed by Texas since 1863 and the first woman the state has put to death since 2014.
Here’s what you need to know about the case:
WHAT ISSUES ARE DISCUSSED?
Lucio’s lawyers say his capital murder conviction was based on an unreliable and coerced confession that resulted from relentless questioning and his long history of sexual, physical and emotional abuse. They say Lucio was not allowed to present evidence challenging the validity of her confession.
Her lawyers also argue that unscientific and false evidence misled jurors into believing that Mariah’s injuries could only have been caused by physical abuse and not medical complications from a serious fall.
“I knew what I was accused of doing was not true. My children have always been my world and even if my life choices were not good, I would never have hurt any of my children in this way,” Lucio wrote in a letter to Texas lawmakers.
Cameron County District Attorney Luis Saenz, whose office prosecuted the case, said he disagreed with Lucio’s attorneys’ claims that new evidence would exonerate him. Prosecutors say Lucio had a history of drug addiction and at times lost custody of some of his 14 children.
During a sometimes contentious Texas House committee hearing on Lucio’s case this month, Saenz initially rebuffed requests to use his power to stop the execution, before later saying that would intervene if the courts did not act.
“I don’t disagree with all the scrutiny this case is receiving. I’m looking forward to that,” Saenz said.
Armando Villalobos was the county district attorney when Lucio was convicted in 2008, and Lucio’s attorneys allege he pushed for a conviction to help his re-election bid. In 2014, Villalobos was sentenced to 13 years in federal prison for a bribery scheme related to offering favorable prosecution rulings.
WHO IS DEMANDING A STOP OF THE EXECUTION OF LUCIO?
More than half of the members of the Texas Legislative Assembly called for a halt to his execution. A bipartisan group of Texas lawmakers this month traveled to Gatesville, where the state houses female death row inmates, and prayed with Lucio.
Five of the 12 jurors who convicted Lucio and a substitute juror questioned their decision and asked him to get a new trial.
Lucio’s cause also has the support of religious leaders and has been featured on HBO’s “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.”
Lucio’s family and supporters traveled across Texas and held rallies and screenings of a 2020 documentary about his case, “The State of Texas vs. Melissa.”
Ahead of Monday’s court ruling, Lucio’s supporters held a prayer vigil inside the state Capitol in Austin as they awaited word from the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles on his clemency request. On Saturday, supporters held rallies in 16 US cities, including Houston, Boston and Columbus, Ohio.
WHERE ARE THE EFFORTS TO STOP HIS EXECUTION?
The Texas Board of Pardons and Pardons was instructed on Monday to consider a request to commute his death sentence to life imprisonment or grant him a 120-day stay of execution, but that hearing was postponed by order of the Court of Appeal. Lucio also had an appeal pending in federal court to prevent his execution. The federal appeal and leniency request are now shelved as the case returns to the trial judge in Brownsville.
It was not immediately clear when the lower court would begin to review his case. Tivon Schardl, one of Lucio’s attorneys, said they hoped to convince the trial judge to recommend that the appeals court grant him a new trial.
If the board had taken up his case and decided to recommend the commutation of his sentence or a reprieve, it would have required Abbott’s approval. The governor has only granted clemency to one death row inmate since taking office in 2015. Abbott commuted the death sentence to life without parole for Thomas “Bart” Whitaker, who was convicted of shot and killed his mother and brother. Whitaker’s father was also shot but survived and led the effort to spare his son’s life.
HOW OFTEN ARE WOMEN EXECUTED?
It’s rare in the United States, according to the Washington-based Death Penalty Information Center, a nonprofit that takes no position on capital punishment but has criticized how states carry out executions. Women make up just 3.6% of the more than 16,000 confirmed executions in the United States since the colonial period of the 1600s, according to the group’s data.
Since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, 17 women have been executed nationwide, the data shows. Texas has put more women to death – six – than any other state. Oklahoma is next, with three, and Florida has run two.
The federal government has executed a woman since 1976. Lisa Montgomery of Kansas received a lethal injection in January 2021 after the Trump administration resumed executions in the federal system after a 17-year hiatus. The Justice Department halted executions again under the Biden administration.
Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter: https://twitter.com/juanlozano70.